Tokyo Olympics 2020: Eric Murray – The massive Kiwi gold medal gamble and why early dominance doesn’t guarantee success


Kerri Gowler and Grace Prendergast will be trying to make Olympic history for Kiwi sport this week.

And you only have to look at one of the greatest rowers in Olympic history, the legendary Brit Sir Steve Redgrave, to know how difficult their task is.

Gowler and Prendergast’s plan is to win gold in the coxless pair on Thursday and then hop into the eight and do it again the following day.

Redgrave won five Olympic gold medals in a row. But when he tried to win two gold medals at the same Games, in the pair and coxed pair, he came up a bit short, with a gold and bronze at Seoul in 1988. That shows just how hard it is.

Gowler and Prendergast have already had to race twice in a day in Japan, and while they are straight through to the eights final, there is also a pairs semifinal to negotiate on Tuesday.

And the narrowness of the eight’s heat win may well have been down to Gowler and Prendergast having raced in the pairs heat just a few hours earlier.

If everything goes to plan, they will claim gold on Thursday putting them on a high, which will help the eight really gel together the next day.

I know the Romanian women’s programme used to do the double-up and it was easier in the earlier 2000s when there was a smaller cluster of elite women.

New Zealand knows that a good eight becomes a very good eight when Gowler and Prendergast, the world championship-winning pair, are in the boat.

It’s all about trying to win medals for your country, although it might be a tricky toss-up that could put a gold medal at risk, for the return of two minor medals. And you never truly know if the risk was worth it until after.

But don’t underestimate how hard it is to do. Off the top of my head, I don’t know of any guys who have won two gold medals at the Olympics, although Hamish Bond and I did manage it at the World Championships in 2014.

Another big story this week concerns single sculler Emma Twigg’s attempt to finally win the Olympic medal which has been so near and yet so far for her at two previous Games.

She was very impressive in the quarterfinal but the single scull event involves a lot of different tactics.

In other words, it is dangerous to read too much into a quarterfinal result when trying to predict how a semifinal will go.

Some competitors like to go hard out and dominate, while others ease off and conserve energy when they are assured of making it through.

Semifinals involve the most brutal of racing because it is a do-or-die race that can put you in the position to medal, or leave you with a hollow consolation prize.

Hamish and I always tried to dominate, because we had a lot of history. But I also know that there are a lot of people in the rowing community out there who don’t go out to win every race.

And Emma could find herself in a semifinal with three high-class opponents, depending on how the draw works.

As I said, semifinals are a particularly brutal business.

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